“As the night advanced I did not care so much about the audience – I turned making tips into a game of sorts. In fact, as I gathered more and more money I became more and more flirtatious with the customers… It began to feel like I was using sexuality as a weapon and I was enjoying this form of manipulation to gain an objective. Excerpt from “Freedom from Conscience – Descent into Darkness.”
The above quote is from my latest psychological thriller. The protagonist, Melanie Lindberg, a state legislator, is forced to go under-cover into an exotic nightclub she suspects is both a cover for sexual trafficking and the source of threats made on her family. A sub-plot running through the book is her learning how to use every skill at her disposal not just to survive, and eliminate her opponents, but also in the process she learns how to better advance her real career objectives through manipulating customers/voters at the emotional level. And isn’t this how it works in real life? And as hormones obviously come into play in the business of sex they also play a huge role in the more “respectable” game of politics. What? How are hormones involved in the political arena? Let’s examine this, paying special attention to testosterone and…well, voter suppression.
Testosterone is generally associated with male sexuality but it is not just present in males, it is merely in higher levels than in females. It is generally associated with aggression but such may not be the case. In truth it is associated with having a more competitive nature, that “I want to win and I will win.” mindset that tends to translate into more social and physical dominance. High testosterone levels in men and women, indicated by for instance, the longer ring finger to index finger ratio has been shown to be correlated with highly successful female athletes, as well as success regarding stock trading in males. Testosterone does not make us who we are; it does help kick us in the seat of the pants to push us along though. And while it is not the only hormone associated with mindset and behavior it is a critical component that cannot be ignored.
In the animal kingdom, specifically pack animals like wolves, there is often a struggle for power with the alpha female and male being established through fighting for dominance. However, it does not benefit the strength of the pack for an alpha to seriously maim or kill fellow members of the pack. Instead a fight will take place but the winner, once in a position to clamp its jaws on or next to the neck of the opponent, but not to take a lethal bite, signals an end to the competition. The wolves can then get on with daily life. And while in Twilight this made for an interesting aspect of the plot, with unusual anthropomorphic implications, does this really have application in the most powerful pack animal species – namely mankind?
Back in 2008 a study was conducted on male supporters of Obama and McCain. On the election night testosterone levels were measured in all participants. When it was clear that Obama was going to win the testosterone levels plunged in the McCain supporters. A similar study was done on male rugby players and, sure enough, once one team was assured that they were going to win the testosterone levels decreased in the team that was losing. And have we not seen that many times, be it our kid’s soccer game or a nationally televised sport event, where, when one team pulls ahead, the other appears to loss hope and motivation, and just goes through the moves until the clock runs out? The idea is that just as in the case of the vanquished wolf a human who losses motivation is likely to give up and avoid life-threatening injuries. So in the past the men who surrendered on the battlefield at least had a chance to survive and pass on their genes, while men who fought to the bitter end, against insurmountable odds, often died and failed to make any further contribution to the gene pool. And while politics in a democratic system does not often lead to death it is our more civilized way of picking leaders. As Freud said, civilization began when someone used words rather than violence to settle a dispute.
So how can this apply to voter suppression? We need only to look at the Democratic primaries of 2016. The mainstream media (often referred to as the media oligopoly or corporate press) employed a bit of hormonal warfare against Bernie by ignoring him at the beginning or marginalizing him as his support continued to grow despite his supporters being demonstration of commitment. Towards the later quarter of the race the media ran stories as to whether, when he lost, he would endorse Hillary. They also ran stories predicting which states would go for Hillary and at what point Hillary would reach the magic number of delegates to clench the nomination. We can be fairly certain that this not only caused some otherwise Bernie supporters to stay at home but others might have voted for Hillary, “The sure thing.” And when you saw the faces of the primarily young enthusiasts for Bernie as he won states but did not win the majority of delegates they looked the same as fans realizing that the referee is only going to rule in favor of the other team’s controversial plays and, thus, your team is destined to lose. One wonders if any researchers were out there testing Bernie and Hillary supporters and their testosterone levels through this race.
Okay, so we have an idea of how the thought that your team losing will reduce testosterone and competitiveness. How is this playing into the general election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Needless to say the same media is virtually united against Trump. And whether you love or loath him it is not difficult to see how media influence could be doing a job on Trump’s supporters in regards to their hormonal fluctuations. Some of the largest media outlets have run not stories based on insider leaks but rather speculation as to when Trump might drop out of the race. The same tactic was used against Bernie if you recall. This could have effects such as reducing people’s willingness to contribute to Trump’s campaign or do grass-roots organizing to get people to vote for Trump. Then, as hormonal levels plummet, the media can point to gloom, pessimism and lack of enthusiasm within his campaign. And, as people do not want to be associated with the losing team, a large number might decide to find other things to devote their time to. Is this voter suppression? Yes, but unlike the old days where polling stations might change location at the last minute in a certain candidate’s staunchest areas of support, this is psychological with physical consequences that then affect the original psychological state. You have what you might call an internal feedback loop developed that makes the once more dedicated supporter assume a state similar to the wolf that realizes they cannot possibly win. Better to be passive…it’s in our nature and our endocrine system.
So yes, testosterone and our expectations, based on reality or not, affects our behavior. Yet are we mere slaves to our internal glands? Not at all, not if you recognize how this works. You see if outside forces can diminish our strength and resolve our ability to connect to and control our perceptions can be used to counteract whatever is thrown at us. Whether on an individual basis, team situation, workplace, dating involved in a political cause a person can, instead of dwelling on negativity, focus on whatever positives that exist, even if things look dire for one reason or another. The beauty in this bit of wisdom is that boosting natural testosterone levels can make men and women more confident, and more confidence can lead to success, which leads to a positive rather than negative feedback loop. Of course exercise helps too but for now perception is the key I want to throw out for now. So, winner or loser…you really do have more control than you think, as long as you recognize you really are in control.
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